Thursday, September 21, 2006

Improving the Planning Commission?

Some people argue that the Planning Commission has been badly weakened over the past two mayoral admissions. I'd argue that the city has ceased to provide real urban planning, the way that some city schools no longer provide an arts and music curriculum. It's one of the municipal services that has fallen by the wayside - and just when the construction boom makes thoughtful planning a high priority again.

At least, the subject is now being discussed in the open by elected officials. Yesterday, Councilmen Frank DiCicco and Jim Kenney introduced a bill aimed at improving the situation. The Inquirer report describes the measure as a "revamping" of the system, but that seems a bit of an overstatement. The bill, if passed, would require the mayor to appoint people with building and development expertise to the planning commission, and require public notice of proposed zoning changes.

Those are worthwhile changes, but just a small step. If Philadelphia wants meaningful urban planning, there have to be changes in the City Charter that requires the zoning board to take direction from city planners. Right now, the zoning board does as it pleases, frequently ignoring the informed opinions of planning staff. The problem goes deeper that, however. City planners routinely turn out "guidelines" abouteverything from building heights to parking garages. But does anyone care? Unless a councilperson takes an interest and gets the guidelines turned into law through a council bill, those guidelines guide absolutely nobody.

14 Comments:

Blogger rasphila said...

Well stated. The whole planning process needs restructuring. On past performance, it's hard to be optimistic that this will happen, but at least there is now going to be some public discussion of the problem.

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just the fact that this bill was introduced is a big step forward. Keep raising public awareness.

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

do something, write to your councilman... for real... dont wait for someone else to do it!

12:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Specifically, write to Kenney and DiCicco and thank them for addressing the issue of zoning reform. Also, look into which mayoral/council candidates have zoning reform as a priority if elected next year (you'll have to register Democrat and vote in the primary if you actually want to have a choice).

9:52 AM  
Blogger JorgeGeorgy said...

I imagine the the improved Planning Commission will involve imagining the improved Delaware River waterfront. However, before we even get to planning, can anyone tell me why the (quay) walkway to the observation area at Penn's Landing has been closed for over a year? If the parties responsible for this important riverfront walkway can't keep it open for citizens and visitors to enjoy, how can we have faith in the fruits of any of this so-called planning?

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inga -
you should read the Daily News also - its article on this topic makes clear that DiCicco and Kenney went much further than the Inquirer understood - they introduced a large package of bills that would improve the planning commission's power and require a professional zoning board - the Inky did not do it justice....

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It will take strong communities to fight non appropriate scale and use. Philly is reviving. In those developement pockets community groups will have their say. I think this is happening in No Lib.

Past city planning didn't help us and possibly did harm. We now are littered with large and important urban disasters that are unsolvable. The Gallery Market East ( which killed Market Street and much of Arch Street). The Chestnut Street Transit Way, Penn's Landing, and any other of the "big" city plans of the Bicentennial Era. 1976.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This anonymous reader is going to express a contrarian view.

I am disturbed by the import of the word "requires" in the last paragraph. Does this suggest that the planners should have the last word?

one wonders whether handing over so much power to what is, in effect, a bureaucracy, is a round about way of creating a "dictatorship of architects and designers."

5:44 PM  
Anonymous Robyn John said...

"Right now, the zoning board does as it pleases, frequently ignoring the informed opinions of planning staff."

I have in the past experienced dealing with boards, communities, and individuals who operate in this fashion. It seems to be the way that most americans deem thier power in a position useful.

Over the past year i've had experience with the Chestnut Hill Community Association via working at the Chestnut Hill Local. We've had people quit, resign, be forced to go. Secret meetings, mis management of funds. There have been threats and sabotage. We were inflitrated and portrayed as 'Terrorists and Parasites' and no, i'm not talking George Bush and his war on terror. I'm talking about how our current goverment portray how many large businesses and organizations work.

Check your ego at the door and stand by what your about.

12:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is amazing that with the apparent absence of a planning commission Center City has experienced a massive population increase and building boom. Compared to ten years ago, CC streets are alive with people on weekends. Apparently no "planning experts" works. The free market works pretty good.

Remember the genuises who banned parking garage construction in the city? The result was businsess moving to Great Valley, etc. The obvious loss of tax revenue and public trans ridership is huge.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

when are you going to post another article?????

8:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If zoning board "must" take the "informed" decisions of the planners, then why have a board at all?

Perhaps the reason we have such boards IN ADDITION TO the "experts" is that collective decisions require more than just facts and expert information, but also trading off different views and value judgments in making or modifying decisions that we all have to live with?

12:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn it all Inga!

POST!

POST DAMN YOU!

POST!

AND POST AGAIN!

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been studying these comments and see a basic misunderstanding of the role of planners and urban planning.

If planning is given more credibility and regulatory authority in Philadelphia, there will not be a "dictatorship of architects and planners" but rather an agreement derived from balancing all of the demands on a given area. This is what planners and designers do.

This agreement will be distilled from a public dialoge. It will be enforcable through regulations and political will, not by the whims or egos of individuals.

Sound utotopian? You bet, because in Philadelphia we are not used to creating these kinds of plans!

But what do you get when you decide to plan?

You get predictability, a better built environment, the protection of the public good, and the great ideas that come from serious dialoge about what should be done.

You also get excitement about an area and the belief that the City is on the rise.

How about changing our expectations that government can do this? How about supporting the public agencies and elected officials in their efforts?

Philadelphia, you can do it!

5:07 AM  

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